Campaigners cautiously welcome progress towards infected blood compensation

Des Collins, Senior Partner, Collins Solicitors, legal advisor to over 1500 people affected by the contaminated blood scandal, responding to today’s Ministerial Statement by the Paymaster General, Penny Mordaunt, said:

“It’s been three and a half years to the day since the Court granted us permission to sue the Government on behalf of the thousands of families affected by the grossly negligent actions of the state in the 70s and 80s, leading to haemophiliacs and others being infected with HIV and Hepatitis from contaminated blood products.

“Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction. Whilst an uplift to the existing financial support provision, which provides short-term help to ease the suffering of the infected and affected, is welcomed, it regrettably still does not include everyone affected, such as parents of children who have died, or children who have lost parents as a result of this scandal.

“Regarding the compensation framework, we shall be making robust representations to the Independent Reviewer, as the consultation will only achieve its aim if the infected and affected are, with expert guidance, able to play a full part in the process. The government owes that to those who are still alive yet suffering after 40 years, and by way of demonstrating respect to those whose lives were prematurely ended at the hands of the state.

“We expect the compensation consultation to have been completed and the framework agreed in principle by the time the Infected Blood Inquiry reports next Summer so that there can be no delay in implementing Sir Brian Langstaff’s recommendations.”

ENDS
25 March 2021

The Infected Blood Inquiry, chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff, is the UK’s largest ever statutory inquiry, established to investigate how men women and children were given infected blood and blood products by the NHS from the 1970s. It is currently continuing its hearings remotely which can be followed live on the Infected Blood Inquiry website/YouTube channel.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Hagens Berman UK LLP Secures Litigation Funding, ATE Insurance and Issues Proceedings Against Mercedes, Strengthening its Global Litigation Against the Car Manufacturer

English claim could be worth more than £1bn.

Hagens Berman UK, the London firm of globally renowned US class-action law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, announces the latest developments in its consumer group action litigation on behalf of UK Mercedes drivers affected by emissions-cheating.

Hagens Berman UK successfully secured substantial litigation funding from Harbour as well as significant After-the-Event (ATE) Insurance to protect its claimant group. The firm has filed proceedings against Daimler AG, Mercedes Benz Cars UK Limited and Mercedes Benz Financial Services UK Limited, in order to press England and Wales Mercedes’ drivers claims arising from dirty diesel-related emissions.

Some 33,000 England and Wales based Mercedes drivers have already registered interest to have Hagens Berman represent them in the group litigation and can now formally opt in to join the group (according to GLO procedure). Other interested parties are also still eligible to join.

“British consumers have a similar right to compensation for unlawful, deceptive and defective emissions-cheating implemented by Mercedes,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman. “Following the $700 million US settlement against Mercedes, we spent the past year laying the foundation for equally successful litigation in the UK. We are now poised to hold Mercedes and other defendants to account.”

An estimated 1.2 million potential claimants in England and Wales owning, leasing or operating affected Mercedes vehicles – either currently or previously – have been affected, based on Mercedes selling more than 700,000 impacted vehicles there between 2008 and 20181. This includes private owners and businesses, such as fleet operators and hire-car companies, as well as lessees of relevant vehicles.

Hagens Berman’s US litigation against Mercedes, led by Steve Berman, returned more than $700 million to US owners of affected Mercedes dirty diesel BlueTEC vehicles2, and led to a $2.2 billion settlement with the US Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency and others in 2020.

Michael Gallagher, Co-Managing Director and partner of Hagens Berman UK, comments: “Harbour’s case-specific funding and the fact we have successfully secured ATE coverage for claimants from Top-Rated A+ insurers demonstrates a recognition of the merits of our case.

“ATE insurance is meaningful to our clients, and should be to every client claimant, as it provides an extra layer of value and security for them. We are especially proud to offer this to those who join our group litigation, in addition to a no-win, no fee arrangement.”

Gallagher added: “As a firm, we have an impressive reputation for investigating, researching and litigating against global defendants and diesel emissions-cheating fraud. We will be leveraging that expertise and applying the same tenacity and attention to detail in pursuing our litigation in the UK.”

Hagens Berman UK launched in London in 2020 and is Hagens Berman’s first international office. The firm has retained a Leading Commercial QC – David Cavender of One Essex Court – to serve as its QC in the case against Mercedes. In addition to its existing London-based solicitor team, the firm will be making further notable hires in the coming weeks.

Steve Berman comments: “We have plans to grow our brand and reputation in the UK market where there is scope to do more to champion consumer rights over corporate wrong-doing and violations and where the legal landscape is changing. Alongside our emissions and automotive case work, where we will initially focus on Mercedes-related litigation in the UK, we intend to broaden our practice and caseload into other areas of the law especially in competition, consumer, environmental, securities and civil rights litigation.”

Current and former owners, lessees and fleet operators of affected Mercedes vehicles in England and Wales who are interested in finding out more about the Hagens Berman UK Group Litigation Order may visit www.mercedes-dieselclaims.co.uk. This group action claim is being conducted on a no-win, no-fee basis, meaning that there will be no out-of-pocket cost to sign up or participate.

Ends

Media Contacts

Bell Yard Communications: +44 207 936 2021 / BellYard@bell-yard.com
Melanie Riley: +44 7775 591244 / melanie@bell-yard.com
Louise Beeson: +44 7768 956997 / louise@bell-yard.com
Sarah Peters: +44 7977 997927 / sarah@bell-yard.com

Steve Berman and Michael J. Gallagher Jr. are available for interviews and can be reached on ashleyk@hbsslaw.co.uk

Notes for Editors

About Hagens Berman

Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is a consumer-rights class-action law firm with nine offices across the US. Hagens Berman UK LLP is headquartered in London and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. The firm’s tenacious drive for plaintiffs’ rights has earned it numerous accolades, awards and titles of “Most Feared Plaintiff’s Firm,” and MVPs and Trailblazers of class-action law. Hagens Berman’s track record spans many practice areas, with record-breaking settlements and victories in the areas of automotive litigation, securities, consumer-rights cases, pension protection and more.

Some of the firm’s highlights include State Tobacco Litigation ($206 billion settlement), Visa MasterCard ATM Antitrust Litigation ($27 billion settlement), Toyota Sudden, Unintended Acceleration ($1.6 billion settlement), E-books Antitrust Litigation ($560 million settlement), Enron Pension Protection Litigation ($250 million settlement), Charles Schwab Securities Litigation ($235 million settlement), NCAA Grant in Aid Scholarships Litigation ($208 million settlement), as well as many other record-setting achievements.

Read more about Hagens Berman’s victories and record-breaking settlements at www.hbsslaw.com. Follow the firm for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw.

About Hagens Berman’s Litigation against Mercedes

Footnotes

1. Hagens Berman not only secured a $700 million settlement from Mercedes in 2020 on behalf of US Mercedes owners of affected diesel vehicles but Mercedes was also forced to conduct a nationwide recall, repair Mercedes-Benz diesel vehicles, pay more than $945 million in penalties, perform projects to mitigate pollution and revamp its procedures. Hagens Berman has also been involved in litigation against Volkswagen in the US where it was found that a comparable defeat device was used and again, the firm also secured substantial compensation for US vehicle owners.

2. Hagen Berman’s Group Litigation Action in England and Wales alleges that Mercedes used illegal emissions-cheating devices to mask non-compliant levels of pollution in the following vehicles powered by BlueTEC diesel-fuelled engines and sold from 2008 up to 2018: A-Class, B-Class, C-Class, Citan, CLA, CLS, E-Class, GL-Class, GLA-Class, GLC-Class, GLE-Class, GLS, M-Class, S-Class, SLK, Sprinter, V-Class, and Vito. (This list continues to expand as the investigation evolves so operators should register their Mercedes model.) Models include passenger and commercial vehicles and vans, such as people movers, shuttles and taxis. Not only private owners and businesses, such as fleet operators and hire car companies, but also lessees of vehicles affected may be eligible for damages. Compensation could be in the range of £5,000 to £10,000 per vehicle. To find out more visit: www.mercedes-dieselclaims.co.uk or http://www.hbsslaw.co.uk/.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Climate change litigation – the heat is on

The battle against climate change is increasingly being fought in the courtroom, with the number of climate litigation cases globally almost doubling over the past three years, in an attempt to drive – or, in some cases, delay – effective action on climate change.

According to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in cooperation with the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, more than 1,550 cases* had been filed in 38 countries as of 1 July 2020, up from 884 cases in 24 countries in 2017. While the overwhelming majority of these cases have been brought in the US, the UK ranks third after Australia in terms of the number of climate litigation cases filed (63 at the time of writing).

With countries around the world increasingly articulating policy objectives to address climate change impacts and setting national emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement, a diverse group of claimants are turning to the courts to compel governments and businesses to implement their climate commitments; pursue more ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation goals; and obtain compensation for climate harms.

As climate litigation rises in frequency and number, the body of legal precedent is growing and forming an ever more coherent field of law. The profile and pressure created by litigation – whether it ultimately succeeds or fails – may influence policy, regulation and corporate behaviour, as well as encouraging similar lawsuits.

Claimants are increasingly deploying novel, bold and creative legal arguments, supported by advances in climate attribution science and greater awareness of the financial risks of climate change – including using human rights-based arguments in cases that seek to advance climate policies, drive strategic change, and raise public awareness.

In the most high-profile human rights-based case to date, Urgenda Foundation v. State of the Netherlands, a Dutch environmental NGO and 900 Dutch citizens sued the government in 2015 to require it to take more ambitious climate action in line with its human rights obligations. In December 2019, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands upheld the lower courts’ order requiring the Dutch government to reduce Dutch emissions by a minimum of 25% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. It is the first time a government has been compelled by law to take action on climate change.

And now, in a similarly ground-breaking case led by the lawyer behind the Urgenda case, Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie) hopes to force Shell to reduce its CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 compared to 2019 levels. Backed by more than 17,000 Dutch claimants and six other organisations, the case was heard in The Hague in December, with the eagerly anticipated judgment due in May.

Meanwhile, in Australia a group of teenagers have launched a class action lawsuit to challenge the environment minister’s approval of a New South Wales coal mine, which they claim violates her duty of care to future generations. The landmark case, which was heard in the Federal Court yesterday, could have dramatic implications for the country’s future energy policy.

Other climate litigation trends include:
• using various strategies in lawsuits against the major fossil fuel companies – ranging from nuisance claims, planning and permitting cases, disclosure-related and fraud cases – including class actions that seek to exploit the wealth of precedent from US tobacco, asbestos and other mass tort claims;
• advocating for greater climate disclosures and an end to greenwashing, i.e. making false or misleading claims about the environmental credentials of a company’s products or the company itself;
• a rise in the number of claims alleging insufficient disclosure or breach of duty by directors, pension fund trustees, auditors, etc in relation to under-reporting or alleged insufficient consideration of climate risk;
• international investors’ use of the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system to bring legal action against host governments to claim damages for costs imposed by domestic climate change regulation.

Although climate change litigation is still in its relative infancy in the UK, we have seen a number of precedent-setting cases over the past couple of years.

In one of the most prominent examples, environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth and Plan B challenged the Secretary of State’s decision to designate a third runway at Heathrow on a number of climate change-related grounds. While the Court of Appeal (CoA) ruled that the Government’s plans to expand Heathrow Airport were unlawful because they failed to take account of the Paris Agreement, in December 2020, the Supreme Court overturned the CoA’s judgment following an appeal by Heathrow Airport. Plan B now intends to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Separately, Plan B has served a pre-action letter on the UK government, alleging that its failure to develop a plan to tackle climate change represents a violation of human rights and of both domestic and international law.

In another landmark case, Client Earth, an environmental law charity, filed a greenwashing complaint against BP in December 2019, alleging that BP’s global ‘Possibilities Everywhere’ advertising campaign misled the public by focusing on the company’s low carbon energy products, when more than 96% of its annual spend is on oil and gas, and as such violated the OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. As a result, BP withdrew the campaign and committed to redirecting its advertising resources towards advocating for progressive climate policies.

While the majority of cases involve claims against the government and carbon majors, no business is immune from the threat of climate litigation – and the reputational challenges this may bring. Even if a company’s defence stands up legally, it should take into account the likely reputational impact of its arguments under public scrutiny when considering the most appropriate course of action.

Pension funds and asset managers in particular are feeling the heat from climate risk disclosure and investment-related lawsuits. More cases of climate litigation affecting the financial sector were filed in 2018 than in any previous year, according to a 2019 study. This upward trend is likely to continue with more cases brought against investment funds in relation to the need to diversify their investment portfolios to ensure exposure to climate change risk is minimised and to disclose the climate change risk inherent in their investments.

In fact, many of the world’s largest asset managers are already taking pre-emptive action and pushing companies to slash emissions, including BlackRock CEO Larry Fink in his most recent annual letter to business leaders and, in the UK, Aviva Investors, which has threatened to divest fully from 30 oil, gas and mining companies unless they set net zero emission goals and integrate climate risks into their strategy.

A growing source of climate-based litigation is likely to be activist investors, who use their shareholdings to overcome problems of legal standing. Whether claims relate to financial disclosure or directors’ duties, shareholder litigation does not face the same justiciability and causation hurdles that still beset tort-based claims.

As financial disclosure requirements related to climate risk increase – with the UK set to become the first country in the world to make Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) aligned disclosures fully mandatory across the economy by 2025 – so too does the likelihood that regulators, consumers, and investors will take action where those disclosures are misleading or incomplete.

According to a ClientEarth report published last month, the overwhelming majority of the UK’s top listed companies are failing to meaningfully disclose climate-related risks, impacts and financial implications. Given that many companies are increasingly making public net zero commitments, this failure not only highlights possible greenwashing, but could also put some firms in breach of existing UK laws; as such, directors could be at risk of personal litigation as climate considerations begin to form a recognised part of their existing legal obligations and duties.

Fraud and greenwashing lawsuits are also being brought against companies outside the energy sector. Since 2015, for instance, Volkswagen has faced multiple class actions, most recently in the UK, over the “Dieselgate” scandal involving its greenwashing of the true extent of vehicle emissions. Mercedes is similarly facing imminent group litigation action in the UK over allegations of dirty diesel emissions fraud, following a successful US class action lawsuit.

The UK has a legally binding commitment to transition to net zero emissions by 2050. With the UK hosting COP26 in November and the G7 Summit in June, at which the Prime Minister has pledged “to build back better from coronavirus and create a greener, more prosperous future,” government and corporate failure to tackle climate change will be under the spotlight in this country more than ever this year.

Indeed, only last week Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, was sent a letter before action by a Cumbrian climate change campaign group, giving notice of its intention to seek a judicial review of his decision not to call in plans for a new deep coalmine in the county – despite the Climate Change Committee warning that the mine would increase global emissions, compromise the UK’s legally binding carbon budgets and give a “negative impression of the UK’s climate priorities in the year of COP26”.

Businesses – whichever sector they operate in – must be alert to the evolving climate change litigation landscape, especially the innovative strategies that are helping to drive the global surge in claims and set new precedents. It is imperative that companies and their directors fully understand, and take steps to mitigate, the risk of litigation – as well as the potential financial and reputational repercussions. The heat is on: climate change is a threat that no one can afford to ignore.

*The UNEP report defines climate change litigation as “cases that raise material issues of law or fact relating to climate change mitigation, adaptation, or the science of climate change”, which are brought before a range of administrative, judicial, and other adjudicatory bodies.

by Sarah Peters 3.3.21

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley